Heritage meets lifestyle at the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz
Whether you believe in destiny or not, I think it’s undeniable that sometimes mishaps can be the beginning of a beautiful story. Such was the case with the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz, a true icon in the Swiss Alps.
The humble beginnings of the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz
The calendar marks the year 1856. Johannes Badrutt and his wife Maria Berry were visiting the Faller Residence in St. Moritz. When Maria fell on the steps of the inn, Badrutt exclaimed: “Where you sit down, there we stay.” Trusting his entrepreneurial instinct, which was obviously running through his veins, he decided on the spot to rent the 12-bedroom guesthouse. He renamed it ‘Engadiner Kulm’, which translates to culmination or mountain top. Soon after, he took another leap of faith and purchased the inn at auction for 28’500 Swiss francs.
The Kulm Hotel’s history and that of St. Moritz are strongly intertwined
Entrepreneurship is about setting goals, taking risks and then riding the wave, preferably with a healthy dose of humour. Badrutt possessed all of these attributes. Both his sense of humour and his entrepreneurialism continued to play a vital role throughout the success story of the iconic Kulm Hotel St. Moritz.
In fact, the destination St. Moritz might not be what it is today, if it hadn’t been for his pioneer spirit. He not only turned the Kulm Hotel into the first luxury hotel in St. Moritz, but he’s also considered the founder of winter tourism.
It was his innate ability to see and grasp an opportunity that led to St. Moritz becoming the sought-after winter destination it is today. His wife Maria was his partner in crime and together they continuously expanded and upgraded the hotel.
The birth of winter tourism, the Cresta Run and the Winter Olympics
In the 19th century, hotels in the Swiss Alps were only open during the summer months. However, 1864 marked a turning point: Johannes Badrutt entered a legendary bet with a group of Englishmen. He invited them to return during winter and if they didn’t like it, they would be staying for free. They stayed until spring and the rest is history.
The Kulm Hotel St. Moritz is also the cradle of the world-famous ‘Cresta Run’ (which I’d describe as a Kamikaze-like bobsled race) and the Winter Olympics.
The destination of the jet set
The Kulm Hotel and the once sleepy mountain village St. Moritz soon became the place to be for high society from across Europe. Even today St. Moritz is still considered one of the most glamorous destinations in the Swiss Alps.
Home to luxury Belle Epoque hotels like the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz and Badrutt’s Palace (founded by one of Badrutt’s sons, to his father’s displeasure), high end boutiques, a diverse range of restaurants and world-class sporting and cultural events, as well as seemingly endless slopes and hiking trails, it continues to attract the elite and those willing to splurge.
Did you know that the Kulm Hotel was the first place in Switzerland to have electric lighting?
After a visit to the World Exhibition in Paris, Badrutt constructed a hydroelectric plant and lit up the dining hall of the Kulm Hotel just in time for Christmas 1878. He also installed the first street lamp in front of his hotel, which quickly became a point of attraction in its own right.
As the owner of the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz, Badrutt was always a step ahead. Thanks to his original training as a craftsman in his father’s sought after woodworking shop, he had a flair for interior design and decorating. He would bring back unique pieces of furniture from his travels and display them in the hotel. Johannes Badrutt also introduced the concept of a grand hotel entrance and lobby, which soon became a common feature at luxury hotels everywhere. At the same time, he always made sure his guests benefitted from the latest technical innovations, such as water closets and heating. His progressive thinking, courage and quick actions led to the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz being referred to as ‘the hotel of firsts’.
The end of an era
Sadly, his wife Maria, lovingly dubbed ‘the heart and soul of the house’ passed away in 1877. Johannes Badrutt’s remaining years were filled with heartache and hardships. He died in 1889, leaving behind a legacy.
During the years that followed, the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz changed ownership and management multiple times and faced many ups and downs, including the effects of two World Wars. One of Badrutt’s grandsons, together with his wife, were the last of the Badrutt family to manage the hotel for a short period until the late 1950’s.
The Kulm Hotel St. Moritz in present days
Fast forward to today, the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz is now owned by the Grand Hotels Engadinerkulm AG and managed by the award-winning hotelier couple Heinz Erich and Jenny Hunkeler. The Kulm Hotel consists of several buildings and a substantial park featuring the 9-hole Kulm Hotel St. Moritz golf course, a curling field and a natural ice rink come tennis court in summer.
The property’s prominent location with the Piz Corviglia as a backdrop guarantees splendid views across Lake St. Moritz and the surrounding mountain peaks. The luxury hotel houses 164 rooms and suites, several restaurants and bars, conference facilities, a world-class spa and two residences with luxury holiday apartments.
A luxury hotel rich in heritage
As an interior design geek and with my love for the history of styles, I was eager to explore this iconic hotel from the moment I entered the impressive hotel hall. The tall ceilings, intricate wood panelling and the elegant chandelier were truly awe inspiring. As I was escorted to my room, walking through the extravagant lobby lounge and hallways lined with antiques, I couldn’t help but wonder about the countless stories that must have unfolded within these walls. So once again, I felt that urge to discover the many historic details and collectables dotted throughout the property.
Transitional room design
Upon entering my room, however, I decided to first settle in and enjoy some of the luxuries my Junior Suite provided. The majority of the rooms at the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz have been renovated over the last few years. My room, like several others, was designed by the award-winning interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. As an interior designer myself, I was of course intrigued by how he’s combined classic design with contemporary interior design and given it a rustic contemporary twist. Although the room was oozing luxury, it also felt very homely.
The sky blue and taupe colour scheme give the space a calm contemporary feel, whilst the wooden ceiling, upholstered walls and soft furnishing create a cosy ambiance. The room features a walk-in closet, a massive marble bathroom, an inviting lounge area with faux-fur cushions, a box spring bed with a bespoke head board, a writing desk with a view and a small balcony overlooking Lake St. Moritz and the mountains.
Time to explore and time to disconnect…
Needless to say, I didn’t want to leave my room. But thankfully, there was the aforementioned pull to explore the premises and a 2000 m2 Spa waiting for me… (If you’ve read any of my other hotel reviews, you’ll know that the spa is one of my favourite parts of a hotel).
The Kulm Hotel St. Moritz Spa
Soon enough I was enveloped by ‘rose coloured’ steam and a lovely fragrance in the salt grotto, able to let go of some of the tension that had accumulated over the last 2 years. As this was my first hotel visit since ‘we all know what’ began, it was a true moment of bliss. After dedicating several hours to ‘studying’ the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz Spa, I’ve now added it to my personal favourites as one of the best hotel spas in Switzerland.
The generous fitness and wellness area at the Kulm Hotel feature a state of the art gym, an indoor and outdoor pool, whirlpool, various saunas and steam rooms, Kneipp hydrotherapy basins, relaxation areas with panoramic views of the Swiss Alps and my favourite, the salt cave. There’s also a private spa suite and a lady’s only spa fitted out with a sauna and relaxation area. The latter became my personal ‘private’ spa whilst everyone else was on the slopes… (but don’t tell anyone!)
Culinary experiences from across the globe
As expected in a luxury hotel, your taste buds are spoiled for choice with a variety of dining options ranging from traditional Swiss cuisine and Italian specialties to Peruvian fusion cuisine and fine dining.
During the winter season there are 6 restaurants, including the pop-up restaurant ‘the K by Mauro Colagreco’, the world-famous Michelin star awarded Italian Argentine Chef and the ‘Sunny Bar’ by Claudia Canessa’, a GaultMillau awarded Peruvian Chef. The latter is not only known for her fusion cuisine mixing traditional Inka dishes with Spanish and Asian recipes, but also her bubbly personality.
Peruvian cuisine at the oldest sports bar in the Swiss Alps
The ‘Sunny Bar’ being the oldest sports bar in the Swiss Alps is yet another space to immerse yourself into the Kulm’s heritage. The walls are lined with historic trophies, picture galleries and some of the first bobsleds from the Cresta run. The toboggan upholstered in purple velvet was definitely my favourite!
Then there’s the recently renovated ice pavilion, home to yet another Gault Millau awarded Kulm Hotel St. Moritz restaurant, the Kulm Country Club. The more than a century old pavilion was brought back to its former glory by no less than architect Lord Norman Foster. Whilst the contemporary new exterior preserves the original building’s historic features, the alpine chic interiors are filled with memorabilia in homage to the birthplace of winter sports.
Although there weren’t many vegan options per se on the menus, I found the restaurant staff to be very accommodating and my customised vegan meals left nothing to be desired. I was particularly impressed by the extensive cereal and fruit stations at the breakfast buffet. If only I could start every day like this…
A fusion of tradition, heritage and luxury
The Kulm Hotel St. Moritz, member of Leading Hotels of the World, Swiss Deluxe Hotels and Virtuoso, is a true lifestyle hotel.
In conclusion I can confidently say that the acclaimed #kulmfeeling, which I would describe as a combination of old-world luxury, sophisticated playfulness and relaxation, does exist.
However, don’t take my word for it, but instead go and experience the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz for yourself.
Happy stylish discoveries!
P.S. If you love iconic hotels filled with history as much as I do, then you may also like the Beau-Rivage Geneva (Switzerland), Les Trois Rois Basel (Switzerland), the Andaz London Liverpool Street (UK), the Penha Longa Sintra (Portugal) and M Malmaison Porto (Portugal).
Photography: Courtesy of the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz
Note: This blog post was created in collaboration with the Kulm Hotel St. Moritz (press trip).